Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chicago: Lion Head Pub

A couple of the girls and I got together at Lion Head Pub one Friday a few weeks back to partake in their free wing Friday special.

With the purchase of any beverage, you get all you can eat wings:

















The wings come in buffalo and BBQ:


People are scary when there's free food.  That's just a fact of life.  When we first arrived at the pub, we were a little annoyed to find that the buffet table was completely void of wings.  We settled down to wait for the next batch and it didn't take long for us to realize that we weren't the only table staring intently at the kitchen door.

The minute a server walked out carrying two buckets of wings, a crazy line suddenly appeared out of nowhere.  People were piling wing after wing on their plates.  Some even had two plates, one in each hand.

But hey, I'm not going to judge.  No shame.

The free wing special is only from 4-7pm on Fridays.  Check it out if you're up for the battle.


Lion Head Pub
2251 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 348-5100
http://www.lionheadpub.net/

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chicago: Gaztrowagon

My best friend wanted to track down a food truck while she was in Chicago.  We decided on Gaztrowagon because its website said that it would be near Northwestern Med School that day around noon.  Since the website didn't say exactly where around Northwestern the truck would stop and since neither my best friend nor I had smart phones to keep track of the Gaztrowagon on Twitter, we got to the school early to scope out possible food truck locations.

We walked around the block a few times before finally staking out a spot to wait at.

We waited.

And waited.

Just when we were about to give up, my best friend spotted the truck zipping on down the street.  She started to jog after it, but I wasn't having any of that.  Oh, hell no.  When the truck turned the corner, my best friend glared at me accusingly.  She started to tell me what she was going to do to me if I caused us to miss the truck, but before she could finish her threat, we saw a flash of the truck on the opposite side of the block.

Instead of walking all the way around the block, we took a shortcut by cutting through campus.  We got to the other side just in time to watch the truck turn the corner at the end of the block.  Ooookay.  We didn't even have time to discuss which way to head next when we saw the truck pass by where we were standing originally.

This proceeded to happen 3 more times.  By the second time, a small group of people had gathered on the sidewalk.  None of us tried to follow the truck.  When the truck tried and failed to fit into a too-small parking spot on its third pass, an elderly gentleman yelled after the retreating truck, "Just throw us the sandwiches!"

Finally, the truck decided the hell with it and parked illegally:

We quickly followed the mass of people and jaywalked across the street.

We risked our lives for these plantain chips ($2):


















Gaztrowagon is known for its naanwiches.  We toyed with the idea of sharing one between the two of us, but after watching that damn truck go around the block so many times, we mutually agreed to each get our own:

















I ordered the pork cheeks naanwich with sweet potato, fennel, and apple and leek hash ($9):

















My bestie ordered the caprese with tomato onion salad, pesto, and mozzarella ($7):

















The naanwiches were good.  My pork cheeks naanwich was very flavorful, though a tad on the overly salty side.  The texture was also rather...mushy.

My best friend had a field day watching that truck try to find a parking spot.  While it was certainly entertaining, I don't think the food is amazing enough to tempt me to try to track down the truck again.  If there ever comes a day that I crave a naanwich, I'll head directly over to their storefront in Edgewater and spare myself the drama.


Gaztrowagon
5973 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60660
(773) 942-6152

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chicago: DMK Burger

After lazing around on the beach, my best friend and I took a little detour through Lincoln Park zoo (funniest sun bear, ever) before setting out to meet with my current and my future roommate at DMK Burger Bar.

We were a bit early, so we stopped next door at its sister restaurant, Fish Bar, first.  Of course we shared the oyster po' boy.  When my friends heard that we were having an oyster po' boy, they wanted in on the action too.  So instead of meeting them at DMK, my best friend and I waited around in Fish Bar until they arrived.  My roommate was immediately greeted with a hug from Marina (our favorite server).  My friends polished off an oyster po' boy and a soft shell crab po' boy (fine, I helped with the soft shell crab one) before we finally made our way to DMK:

















The interior was a lot more spacious than its exterior hinted at:

















The four of us split an order of parmesan fries with truffle cream:

















And sweet potato fries with lemon tobasco aioli:

I apologize for the poor quality of the photos.  It was really dark inside DMK and I dislike using flash.  I had to give in to flash, however, in order to show the full glory of our burgers.  My best friend got her crispy portobello burger, but the rest of us split 2 meaty creations.  

Here's the grass-fed lamb burger with sheep's milk feta, olive tapenade, greek salad, and tzatziki:

















And here's the roasted hatch green chile burger with fried farm egg, sonoma jack, and smoked bacon:

















Gotta show the cross sections:

















I thoroughly enjoyed both burgers.  The bun was delish, the burger patties were meaty, the toppings went well...overall, just two really enjoyable burgers.  Not the cheapest burger out there, but tasty.

What really made our night however, was the service.  DMK and Fish Bar really know how to hire incredible people because our server, Lauren, was AMAZING.  She was so friendly and helpful and easy to talk to.

Not to mention she brought us free desserts.  Two giant ice cream cookie sandwiches:

















And two peanut butter shakes:























Ugh....so good.  The cookie was soft, the ice cream creamy...the peanut butter so very rich.  I don't know how my roommate does it, but she always gets us free stuff when we eat out.

I am now a proud Frequent Fryer club member of DMK and Fish Bar.  Apparently you get points for every dollar you spend, but I care more about having the card itself and being able to say that I'm a "frequent fryer" than the actual rewards.  So cool!

We have Marina at Fish Bar and Lauren at DMK.  Life is good.


DMK Burger Bar
2954 N Sheffield Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 360-8686

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chicago: Cookie Bar

When my best friend and I took a leisurely stroll through Lincoln Park, I suggested that we stop by Cookie Bar for some snacks to enjoy later:























The interior was a little too industrial for my tastes, but the cookie selection looked awesome:

















Instead of eating our cookies then and there, we took them to North Ave Beach because, hey, that's how we roll.

First up was the Mackenzie:

















The Mackenzie is basically a smorgasbord of everything you can possibly imagine going into a cookie: oatmeal, peanut butter, chocolate chips, coconut, caramel, banana chips, potato chips, and cheerios.  

We definitely couldn't NOT try the jalapeño chocolate chip:

















The skeptical part of me doubted that the jalapeño would even be noticeable.  Boy was I wrong.  The kick was there all right.

For our third cookie, we went with the Lisa Marie Presley:

















It's a peanut butter cookie with peanut butter cups, milk chocolate chunks, banana chips, and if that wasn't enough, there's even more peanut butter.  

Of the three, I think my favorite was the Lisa Marie.  It was a bit crumblier than the other two, but the peanut butter was super rich.  I didn't taste any banana, though that may have helped it in my book.  

The cookies at Cookie Bar are $1.25 each and $12 for a dozen.  I was tempted to go for a dozen, but ultimately figured that wouldn't be consistent with my New Year's resolution to do things in moderation.  (Not like I've been making any progress on that resolution anyway.)

We went to Cookie Bar two weeks ago and it wasn't until maybe last week (long after my best friend went home to California), that I received notice that Cookie Bar now has an alter ego: Dirty Betty's.  Now on weekdays from 7:00 to 10:00am and all day Saturdays, Cookie Bar/Dirty Betty's offers donuts.  

Guh.  Why couldn't Dirty Betty's have opened just a week earlier?


Cookie Bar
2475 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 348-0300
http://cookiebaronline.com/

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chicago: Lavazza

After Blackbird, my best friend and I really didn't have any plans until dinner except to hit the beach.  Since we had time to kill, I took her into the Chicago French Market to look around.  When we passed by Lavazza, I suddenly remembered that my best friend had emailed me an article about Lavazza's coffee a while back.  When I reminded her of it, she was more than willing to take a coffee break:



Lavazza wins for most...interesting decor:


















My best friend was supposed to be looking at the coffee selection, but she got a little sidetracked by the gelato display case:

















Even I, who was originally planning on not getting anything at all, gave in to the call of the gelato.

We decided to share 2 scoops.  It was really easy to pick our first flavor (we both love pistachio), but we let our server recommend the second.  He said the strawberry was his favorite:

















The gelato at Lavazza is super creamy, much creamier than I'm used to, which makes it so very good.  Both the strawberry and the pistachio flavors were fantastic.

Having gelato with my best friend takes me back to our Berkeley days.  We had a tradition of treating each other out for a fancy dinner on our birthdays and every year we always had room for some pearl tea or some gelato afterwards.  Ah...good times.


Lavazza
Chicago French Market
131 N Clinton St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 207-2500
http://www.lavazza.com/corporate/en/

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chicago: Blackbird

I'd decided my first year in Chicago that I would go to Blackbird with no one but my best friend.  The only problem was how to convince her to visit.  So when my best friend told me she'd booked her tickets, I informed her in no uncertain terms that we were going to put aside a day and dine at Blackbird:

















Sometimes when restaurants try to take the modern design route, they end up looking cold and sterile.  Blackbird is an example of modern implemented well:

















You can't really tell from this photo, but the stark white of the walls and tables is tempered by the soft grey of the seats and the copious amount of natural light allowed in by the huge windows.  The bright orange menus and the yellow daisies on the tabletops add whimsical pops of color.  The end product feels clean, rather than cold.

We started off the meal with some bread:

















One of my pet peeves is hard, un-spreadable butter.  No such problem here!

Instead of ordering off the regular menu, we opted for the 3-course prix fixe lunch, which consisted of 3 appetizer options, 2 entrées, and 2 desserts.

For her appetizer, my bestie ordered the asparagus soup with egg yolk, green garlic, umeboshi, and lavender:

















The color was just gorgeous and it tasted exactly as advertised.  Like asparagus.

I went with the warm sepia noodles with spring onion, avocado, green pumpkin seeds, and lime:

















By far my favorite dish of the meal.  When our server warned me that it was a seafood dish, I was confused but not deterred (as if).  I wouldn't have been so confused if I'd known then that sepia can refer to more than just a color, but is actually also a type of cuttlefish.  As it was, I was astounded when my first bite revealed not pasta noodle, as I'd expected, but noodles made from cuttlefish.  SO DAMN GOOD.  I loved everything about it: the playful "noodles," the crunch of the pumpkin seeds, the buttery-ness of the pureed avocado, and the kick of lime.  

My best friend ordered the wood-grilled sturgeon with ham hock, red beet, cabbage, and smoked dates for her entrée: 

















I chose the roasted chicken and sausage with lime onions, tamarind, and smoked cucumbers:























The chicken was smoky and juicy, but I wasn't blown away by it.  The tamarind was intriguing, however, and had an almost chocolate-y flavor.

For dessert, my best friend got the chocolate ganache with tahitian vanilla, gastrique, and parsnip ice cream:

















The chocolate ganache was so very decadent, but I actually preferred my vanilla parfait with satsuma, campari, and caramelized white chocolate:























This deconstructed parfait was definitely my second favorite of the day.  The vanilla cream pillows were light and airy and contrasted nicely with the crunchy cookie bits.  The whipped cream foam I could have done without.  But what really won me over was the bright citrusy flavor added by the satsuma syrup.  

Tucked into the crunchy bits were 2 tiny, pink, gem-like candy balls.  I studied it for a long time (the transparent sugar exterior, the clear liquid trapped inside) before I finally popped one in my mouth.  UGH.  Alcohol.  Totally caught me off guard.

I loveLOVElove Blackbird.  High quality ingredients, impeccable presentation, playful execution, unexpected flavor and texture combinations, moan-worthy taste...everything that makes for a fantastic meal.  The portion sizes may look small, but they're actually quite perfect.  For $22, the weekday lunch prix fixe is a fabulous steal.

So what are you waiting for?  Grab your best friend and go!


Blackbird
619 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 715-0708

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chicago: Davanti Enoteca

I'm the type of person who usually likes to have my day planned in advance, but by Monday morning, I still had no idea where to take my best friend for lunch.  This was problematic because getting anywhere in Chicago from Hyde Park typically takes 1 to 1.5 hours by public transit, which meant we needed to leave quite early in order for us to eat leisurely and still allow me enough time to get back home to prepare for my seminar at 4:00pm.

It is astounding how difficult it is to decide on a restaurant, especially given how many good options there are in the city.  There are just so many factors to take into consideration: distance/travel time, price, menu, personal mood, suitability for 2-person dining, etc.

After a lot of dallying on Yelp, my best friend suggested Davanti Enoteca, which was convenient because I'd been wanting to check it out for a while now:

















We managed to decide on a restaurant and still arrive just half an hour after it opened for business.  This just goes to show that I needn't have worried:

















Davanti's menu is designed for sharing.  Our server was very helpful in giving us an idea of how much food we should order and also very helpful in recommending her particular favorites.

My best friend and I decided to split a pizza and a pasta to start with and see how we felt about ordering more as we went along.

We started with the pizza della terra:

















The pizza board was placed on top of a giant empty tomato can (which made me laugh) and came topped with foraged mushrooms, braised leeks, taleggio, and truffle oil.  The truffle oil really made the pizza.  

At our server's recommendation, we went with the uovo in raviolo "San Domenico":

















Our server's description of the dish as "a giant raviolo with the sauce wrapped inside" intrigued us.  Lo and behold, that's exactly what it was.

The minute we broke into the raviolo, gooey egg yolk oozed out:

















While the sight of a broken egg yolk was discomfiting to me, even I had to agree that in this case, it was a good thing.  Combined with the egg yolk, the ricotta and spinach filling really did create an amazing "sauce":

















We ended up wiping the plate clean with our pizza crusts.

After finishing off the pizza and the raviolo, we looked at each other and mutually agreed that another dish wouldn't hurt.  We decided that the mascarpone polenta sounding more interesting.

A server came to our table armed with a wooden board and two small pots.  One contained the polenta, which he spooned onto the board:























A well was made in the polenta, into which our server poured the ragu of the day (tomato and sausage):























The final product was quite visually appealing:























I haven't had good experiences with polenta in the past, but this one really changed my opinion of it.  The polenta was creamy and buttery and mixed so well with the flavorful ragu.  The sausage in the ragu was delicious and luckily for me, I got to eat it all.  (There are definite benefits to eating out with a vegetarian best friend.)

I really enjoyed my meal at Davanti.  I would very much like to return again to try the focaccia, which I've heard a lot about but didn't get to try.  Next time, I think I will come with a larger group so that I can sample more things off the menu.  Gotta be strategic, man.  Make use of your friends.


Davanti Enoteca
1359 W Taylor St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 226-5550
http://www.davantichicago.com/

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chicago: Nightwood

I made reservations for Sunday brunch at Nightwood a week before my best friend was scheduled to arrive.  I was a little surprised that the only open table for 5 was at 2:00pm, but after conferring with my friends, I made the reservation anyway.  It wasn't until later that I realized our little brunch excursion coincided with Mother's Day.  It was a bit of a "duh" moment for me.

Since our brunch was more of a late lunch, my best friend and I stopped by Maxwell Street Market for some pre-lunch snacking before meeting up my friends at Nightwood.  Church ran a little late, so we only had enough time at Maxwell to scarf down a quesadilla and a churro each.  We weren't quite able to do Maxwell justice, but there was no way we were going to miss our reservations at Nightwood:  

















My best friend and I were halfway to feeling full before we even got to Nightwood, so we decided to play it safe by sharing an entrée and a bacon butterscotch donut:























Not going to lie...the not-so-little puddle of grease that the donuts were sitting in was a bit troubling.  We tried to brush it off as some kind of syrup at first, but reality sunk in pretty quickly.

This donut shows how awesome my best friend is.  She let me order a bacon donut despite the fact that she doesn't eat meat.  At all.  And like the stubborn, inconsiderate jerk that I am, I kept prompting her to "just try some."  (I think I was still in denial at that point.)  She was the epitome of patience, however, and just scraped the bacon off her portion.

This pattern continued for the rest of her stay.  She would encourage me to order stuff with meat, I would pick out the meat pieces, and she would eat what she wanted.  The downside to this arrangement was that I felt guilty.  The upside was that I got extra meat.  I hope my best friend enjoyed the food we had during her trip as much as she claims she did, or else I would be the worst best friend ever.  EVER.

My friends ordered the chocolate caramel donut:

















There's a lot of hype over the donuts, but I don't really see what all the fuss is about.  The grease pool was off-putting, for sure, but the donuts themselves weren't even all that impressive.  They tasted like they'd been fried for a tad too long and ended up soaking up the oil.  I do have to say though, the bacon bits were amazing.  They were sweet and crunchy...and I could've eaten it by the spoonful (which I kind of did).

My friend ordered the two egg omelet, which came with romesco, potatoes, and green garlic:























Even though I didn't try any of the omelet, I'm including it in my post because the hash browns ball was fantastic and very much appreciated when I was almost overpowered by sweetness.

You see, my best friend and I ordered the Illinois sweet cornbread pudding with summer berries and whipped goat cheese:

















The server described it as being similar to a french toast, which was what convinced me to give it a go.  The actual cornbread pudding was almost polenta-like in texture, dense and moist.  I definitely enjoyed the dish (especially the corn kernels in the bread), but toward the end it just got way too sweet for me.  I always, always let myself get tempted by sweet things even though I know I will end up wishing I ordered something savory instead.  Sigh...

Before we left, our server brought us two complimentary lemon bars:























There was no way even a bite of that bar could've fit in my stomach, so I happily relinquished it to my friends.  They'll have to let me know if it was any good.

A very satisfying meal, though I probably would've enjoyed it more if I hadn't had a carne asada quesadilla and a vanilla cream filled churro in my stomach beforehand.  


Nightwood
2119 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 526-3385
http://www.nightwoodrestaurant.com/

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chicago: Pequod's Pizza

I couldn't let my best friend come to Chicago and NOT take her to get some deep dish pizza.  I figured I would get it out of the way early on during her stay so that we could have more flexibility later on.

I'm slowly making my way through all the deep dish options in town, one guest at a time.  Pequod's was next on my list, so that's where we went for dinner on Saturday:























I was expecting a long line, so I made it a point to get us there a bit early.  It seemed that I shouldn't have worried.  Things didn't get busy until much later on:

















There was no question that we would be sharing a small deep dish.  What did require some thought, however, was what toppings we wanted.  We ultimately went with mushroom and sausage:

















It was at Pequod's that I learned that my best friend is a VEGETARIAN.  An official, honest to God vegetarian.  I totally didn't see it coming.  Before you judge me too harshly about not knowing something this monumental about my own best friend, I would like to defend myself by saying that the last time we talked about food, all she said was that she prefers vegetables over meat and nothing about giving up meat entirely.  Granted, I should have gotten the hint when she was picking out the slivers of proscuitto from our grilled cheese sandwich at Grahamwich, but it took her stopping the waitress at Pequod's and requesting a half topping of sausage instead of a regular topping for all the signs to finally sink in.

I was floored.  I still am, actually.  Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I'm a hardcore carnivore.  I've been known to lightly tease my friends who eat salad.  I've also been known to threaten to cut off any friends who play with the idea of going vegetarian...in a friendly way, of course  Don't even get me started on veganism.

Anyway, back on topic.  To be honest, I don't remember much about the pizza:

















I remember the sausage being decent, but the mushroom being bleh.  My best friend lamented about the fact that the pizza arrived lukewarm.

Pequod's is known for its caramelized cheese crust:

















For some reason, I expected the caramelized magic to be all over the entire crust (including the bottom) and not just a crown of sorts on the edge.  The crust was also quite a bit thicker than I would prefer.

All in all, I wasn't blown away.  And I really wanted to be.  Instead, I was bulldozed by my best friend's revelation regarding her newfound dietary moral convictions.

If it was anyone else, I could easily dismiss and disown them.  But this is my best friend, who I've known since I was 1 and a half years of age, who I've eaten sand with in the playground, and who has stuck with me for over 2 decades despite my many, many shortcomings.

Needless to say, I have a lot of self-reflecting to do in the near future.  At the moment though, the shock is still too great.

If you're reading this...I still love you, BFF.  I just need some time to get over myself.



Pequod's Pizza
2207 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 327-1512
http://www.pequodspizza.com/
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